And There I Thought Jokes were Supposed to be Funny

by Guest Contributor Chally, originally published at Zero At the Bone

Katie Price and HarveyKatie Price, also known as Jordan, is a British TV personality and former model. I’m Australian, so I can’t claim to know much about her. The one solid thing I came into this piece knowing is that she is the subject of a lot of ire in the way only British tabloids can produce. Her eldest child, ten-year-old Harvey, was fathered by a former Trinidad and Tobago football player called Dwight Yorke, and is blind and autistic. You can see how this is going to go already.

In December 2010, a comedian called Frankie Boyle performed a routine on the UK’s Channel 4 poking fun at Katie Price through Harvey. It was pretty awful in a number of ways, but the bit I want to focus on is the following joke, which refers to Katie’s former relationship with Alex Reid: “I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage-fighter: she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from fucking her.”

This isn’t the first joke about Harvey, even if it is the first one calling him a sexual predator, and it certainly isn’t the first about Katie. Harvey is so much in the spotlight as part and parcel of the usual potshots at his mother, whose sexualised image is the subject of a lot of media ire. He’s also a prominent subject simply because, fat, disabled, and black as he is, Harvey is far from the kind of “celebrity baby” the tabloid public like to fuss over and photograph.

I never thought I’d link to the likes of the Daily Mail, but that’s where Katie wrote a response to this, in her 30 June piece promoting her show Katie: Standing Up for Harvey. I’m really uncomfortable with this piece on a number of levels, particularly in that it’s promoting yet another campaign “on behalf of” disabled people, run by a parent, rather than, you know, in support of the activism we disabled folks do ourselves, thanks. In any case, from the piece:

“Imagine if the reason Boyle gave for saying Harvey was capable of raping me was not because of his disability but because he is black. People would understand how discriminatory that is. It is just as discriminatory when the joke is based on someone’s disability.”

Sad to say, lots of people can and do make that kind of joke. I’m not as sure as Katie that we can entirely separate out Harvey’s disability from his blackness here. Even though the focus is on his being disabled, there’s a silent and potent message about the scary black man. This joke was made in a context in which black male sexuality is seen as inherently threatening and violent. So uncontrollably so, in fact, that one’s own mother might be subject to the sexual violence one mindlessly inflicts. That idea of mindless aggression positions a marginalised and vulnerable person as the true threat, and it’s an idea that is common to both how blackness and disability are figured. And, on top of that, he’s just a kid, and he’s being sexualised in a really horrific way. Harvey, as a young black man of nine, is being subjected to a multiple whammy here, and, while his race didn’t explicitly come up, only one referent was necessary to spark a set of associations.

There’s a lot more to that joke. Katie needs a big strong (possibly white; I’m not sure of Reid’s identity) saviour to protect her from the scary black guy? Really? More than that, Katie Price is a survivor of sexual violence, and here her relationship with one of the people she loves best in the world is being painted with that. That’s completely unacceptable. You don’t get to use the relationship between a mother and son to inflict racist, ableist, horrible rubbish on them in the name of satirising celebrity. They’re human beings.

According to Mark Sweney at The Guardian, “The Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham, has admitted that he personally signed off” on the joke. “We obviously recognise that in that particular case a piece of humour that was contextualised in the programme late at night was then passed on in the media and out of context and did cause a reaction we had not intended,” said Abraham. I don’t think there’s a context that makes that right, buddy.

(Image Credit: The Sun)

  • Kat

    In which context is a comment about someone raping their own mother funny?! 

  • XiXi_Top

    I hate to nit pick (no I don’t) but this… “Harvey, as a young black man of nine”
    Yeah, Harvey is a black child…was this a typo?

    Anyway, the joke was racist & ableist…as in the punchline is the racist/ableist stereotypes.

    I wonder how class figures into this as well? 
    I feel like comedians feel like it’s especially ok to make fun of people of color if they’re rich…it’s as if being rich affords them whiteness/less sympathy which is absolutely ridiculous.

    • http://zeroatthebone.wordpress.com Chally

      Nope , not a typo. “Young man” is commonly used to refer to boys.  :)

      • Ahimsa

        I’ve seen the terms “young man”/”young woman” used for boys/girls but generally only for teenagers. Or maybe for pre-teens. But I was also confused when I saw “young man” used for a 9 year old (either boy or girl).

        Maybe these terms are used for  much younger boys/girls in the UK? (I’m in the USA)

    • http://zeroatthebone.wordpress.com Chally

      Nope , not a typo. “Young man” is commonly used to refer to boys.  :)

  • TeakLipstickFiend

    In the Guardian article, the Channel 4 chairman, Lord Burns, is quoted as saying, ‘”I am content it was never intended to offend or cause distress to the son, that it was humour directed at the mother,” he said.’

    WTF? That is supposed to be justification of it?

  • Anonymous

    What a horrific thing to have to hear about your child. As the sister of disabled adults I stand with Katie Price, her son, and all disabled people and their loved ones. I definitely agree with you Chally about this so-called comedian’s intent: coded racism is deeply embedded in the overt ableism of the “joke.” Not to mention the disgusting casualness of rape jokes as a cheap form of shock value entertainment.

    I don’t know about the state of advocacy groups in Australia or the UK, but a couple of months ago when Tracy Morgan made disgusting statements about kicking LGBTQ youth out of their homes, advocacy groups here who work with homeless queer youth demanded that Morgan meet with survivors of family abandonment in person. After actually talking with kids who had been thrown out of their homes for being trans, lesbian, or gay, Morgan recanted his bigoted statements. Is there a possibility of such a campaign being launched on this tired shock jock?

    We can never separate bigotry in media from the real-life attacks on marginalized people in society. This story makes me wonder about the overall quality of life for disabled folk in the UK. What kind of obstacles are disabled Brits having to put up with in their day-to-day lives?

    • http://zeroatthebone.wordpress.com Chally

      Well, the UK is an interesting one, because they have a really strong disability advocacy tradition. There are some major benefits issues at present, which are being covered at The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/disability.  I’d also recommend checking out Disability Now magazine.

  • Anonymous

    How horrible! 

  • Anonymous

    How horrible! 

  • Notebook

    Wow, unbelievable. That’s all I can say.

  • Anonymous

    I wrote a similar post on this about my blog. Sad to to say Boyle’s comment was kind of brushed off because he is a comedienne and is known for being “edgy and controversial” which is a load of freshly squeezed bullshit.

  • Anonymous

    I wrote a similar post on this about my blog. Sad to to say Boyle’s comment was kind of brushed off because he is a comedienne and is known for being “edgy and controversial” which is a load of freshly squeezed bullshit.

  • Anonymous

    I wrote a similar post on this about my blog. Sad to to say Boyle’s comment was kind of brushed off because he is a comedienne and is known for being “edgy and controversial” which is a load of freshly squeezed bullshit.

  • H. Ilana Newman

    This is nauseating.  

  • H. Ilana Newman

    This is nauseating.  

  • H. Ilana Newman

    This is nauseating.  

  • Mickey

    This shit is wrong on so many fucking levels. I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Mickey

    This shit is wrong on so many fucking levels. I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Mickey

    This shit is wrong on so many fucking levels. I don’t even know where to begin.

  • Erikakharada

    I thought comedy was supposed to be an artform, not “say a bunch of horrible things about people and pray that some of it will be funny”.